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MLS Kicks Off Tournament Amid COVID-19 Concerns

As Major League Soccer Wednesday night steps onto the field to begin its 2020 season and the NBA, MLB and NHL gear up for season starts and restarts later this month, the COVID-19 pandemic remains an ominous cloud that threatens to further alter the pro sports landscape.

With its season already delayed three months due to the pandemic, MLS will launch its 2020 tournament July 8 in Orlando without one of its teams, as FC Dallas pulled out Monday after 10 players and one staff member tested positive for the virus. 

Further, a coronavirus outbreak on the Nashville SC team has forced the postponement of tonight’s Nashville-Chicago contest, and it's unclear if that team will be able to participate in the tournament.

The fan-less MLS games, which will be televised by ESPN and Fox Sports, will feature 25 teams and will run from July 8 through Aug. 11. “Our overall goal is to deliver the highest level of production that fans have come to expect from ESPN for decades,” said ESPN executive VP, event and studio production, Stephanie Druley. “Fans in the crowd or no fans, a few cameras or many cameras, overflowing stadiums, or empty arenas, the viewer experience still needs to be great, and we anticipate that it will be.”

MLS’ launch follows the NWSL’s return to the field in late June minus one of its teams -- the Orlando Pride -- after six of that team’s players and four staffers tested positive for COVID-19. The tournament, which is entering its third week, continues to play on without any major health-related issues thus far.

Right behind the MLS are the much anticipated scheduled launches of pro baseball, basketball and hockey later this month, although each sport is experiencing COVID-19-related bumps in the restart road.

More than 30 MLB players have reportedly already tested positive for the virus as teams begin their “summer camp” prior to the July 30 start of the league’s 60-game season. Several teams, including last year’s World Series teams the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros, had to cancel scheduled practices earlier this week as they awaited delayed results from players’ COVID-19 tests.

NBA teams began arriving in Orlando to begin resumption of the league’s 2019-20 season in a bubble environment at Disney World. Reportedly several players, including stars Victor Oladipo, Bradley Beal and Spencer Dinwiddle, are sitting out the league restart due to virus concerns, while other players have voiced their concerns about staying healthy despite the closed-in accommodations.

The NHL reported Monday that 23 out of nearly 400 players that have participated in club practices thus far have contracted COVID-19 virus, but the league is still on schedule to begin its training camps on July 13 and its regular season restart on Aug. 1.

Even the college sports ranks have been affected by the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus. The Ivy League has reportedly canceled all of its fall sports events, including college football and college basketball games. Golf's prestigious Ryder Cup competition scheduled for September has also been postponed until 2021 due to the pandemic. 

Sports fans are anxiously awaiting the return of their favorite sports, and players are getting ready to return to the field. Yet the pandemic -- and not the players, owners or fans -- may have the last word on whether the sports leagues actually play ball as scheduled.